Accepted paper:

Batesonian perspectives for thinking about resource projects


Phillip Guddemi (Bateson Idea Group)

Paper short abstract:

I consider two perspectives from Bateson’s thought, the first regarding how cultural contact often yields values simplification, the second involving what values are maintained by changing others, even when the values allowed to change may be more fundamental ones to long term system survival.

Paper long abstract:

Perspectives from the later work of Gregory Bateson can be useful in placing resource extraction projects in context. They can help us ask some of the necessary difficult questions. I shall describe two such perspectives and apply them to the cases at hand. For the first, in a 1991 talk, Bateson looks at the systemic simplifications that often accompany cultural contact. Using my own summarizing terms for what Bateson describes via example and implication, he sees in these contact situations, (1) a simplification of existing cultural understandings or values -- his favored examples involve religious concepts themselves seen as relational communications; (2) a placing of these understandings or cultural forms in an encompassing larger culture but in a way which trivializes them; and (3) the bringing in of a universal language of quantification, especially involving money. For the second Batesonian approach relevant to these projects one turns to his cybernetic work on what he termed the economics of flexibility. In any system which is living or composed of living beings, some factors or variables are enabled to be stable by the changing of others. Thus in any system, from the most local to the national, transnational, or global, we can ask what is that system maintaining as a stable value, at the cost of which changes in other parts of the system. But are the values allowed to change the ones which would be more fundamental or conducive to long term system survival?

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A particularly hairy beast: relativism, relationality and an ecology of moralities